"THE OUTSIDER: A Memoir," by Jimmy Connors, Harper, $28.99, 416 pages (nf)
Pro tennis watchers insist the game is being played at levels unseen in decades past. That may be true, but many also argue that men's tennis was far more watchable during the respective, often overlapping reigns of John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors.
The 1970s and '80s marked an era when the top players were not just great athletes — they were A-list celebrities with personalities as big as an overhead smash. Folks who had never gripped a racket would tune in by the millions to watch the day's top players do battle in Wimbledon or U.S. Open finals. They expected great tennis — and great theater.
Few players were as controversial and popular (or unpopular) than Connors — a mop-topped outlander known as much for his temper and potty mouth as his two-handed backhand and eight Grand Slam singles titles. Now he's making a comeback of sorts in his entertaining — and, no surprise — controversial and profane memoir "The Outsider."
As the title suggests, Connors postures himself as an outsider who grew up far from the tennis country club set. He learned the game from his mother, Gloria, on the family's homemade court in East St. Louis. He quickly ascended the ranks of American amateurs and won an NCAA title before making the leap to the pro circuit.
"The Outsider" reaches its stride as Connors revisits his iconic matches against Borg and Arthur Ashe, along with his tense relationship with McEnroe and, years later, Andre Agassi. Memories of his failed engagement to Chris Evert include a strong suggestion that that iconic female player became pregnant with his child — a pregnancy, hints Connors, that she chose to terminate. An angry Evert has since spoken out against Connor's book.
Connors deserves credit for casting an honest, critical eye upon his own sins, including his womanizing and gambling woes. Readers will also come to know of his loyalty and love for his family, particularly his two children.
"The Outsider" is about what you'd expect from an uncensored Connors memoir. There are plenty of roguish, shake-your-head moments. Connors fans will have fun. As for his detractors? Expect them to be put off by his frequent profanity and sometimes unexplainable defiance.